Hell, Liam thought, is a customs and immigration line: no escape, no recourse, no logic. But why complain? Prayers and groans yield only a side-eye from the poor damn listless souls suffering alongside you. Your own choices left you here, thrown upon the tender mercy of petty bureaucrats, abandoned to the death of a thousand grinding ticks of a slowing clock. The judge waits. She’s had a long day, there are men with guns behind her, and she doesn’t give a shit about you.
Even Liam had to admit he was being unusually grim, but after an eleven-hour flight with a three-hour connection through Dubai, no one had the right to expect him to feel chipper. Bureaucrats and their lines and maps, getting in the job’s way, keeping people from living the lives they—No, calm down. Behave. Act how you had to act in lines. Or else. Think positive thoughts, Sal would have told him, if she were here.
Fine. Positive: The Shanghai Pudong Airport customs line was far from the worst he’d seen. They’d swept the place recently. He could appreciate quality in this sort of thing. There were better and worse ways of having one’s fingernails pulled out.
Grace, beside him, hadn’t stopped fidgeting since they had joined the line. She rolled her ankles, her shoulders. Hands in pockets, then out. Arms crossed, uncrossed. Stretching. Casing the corners of the room, as if a demon would jump them in the middle of a goddamn airport. Liam frowned. “Could you stay still, please?” Meaning: You’re attracting attention. “I'm just as eager to get this over with as you.”
“I doubt that.” But she stilled. Too much, in fact. He stood beside an iceberg.
And now he’d pissed her off, of course, sent her into that icy withdrawal where she spent . . . well, a lot of her time when he was around. He was just tired. Christ Jesus. “Look. I’m sorry. I know you hate travel. Me too.” She turned to him, at least, and raised one eyebrow. “Not the waiting—good chance to catch up on airport news. It’s this guy that bothers me.” He thumbed open his passport and showed her the picture.
“Looks like you with a better haircut.”
“And I don’t have any idea what he was up to for two years.”
Grace blinked. “Oh. The demon thing.”
Which was an abrupt, if accurate, way to sum up the two years of possession and stolen memories from which the Bookburners had rescued him. “The ‘demon thing.’ Sansone’s diplomats claim I’m not on any watch lists, that they’ve scrubbed the few crimes I committed that made it onto records, but you never know. Especially in a place like this.” He pointed to the stars-and-blood flag with his chin. “Sansone doesn’t have official ties here. No Bookburners in China since the Matteo Ricci business. If it turns out dear old demon-possessed Liam has history with the local constabulary, well, you know what they say about interesting times.” He glared at the face in the passport. Beautiful old mug. Shame it kept getting him into trouble.
“Nobody actually says that,” Grace said. “It’s an urban legend. Sort of racist, too. If you think about it. Inscrutable wisdom.”
The line shuffled forward in silence.
“Anyway,” she continued, “it could be worse.”
“You could have fought wizards and demons for the Nationalist government in 1928, until your friends betrayed you and smuggled you out of the country in a curse that stuck you beyond time. You could have slept away most of the century, not knowing what happened to the people you fought beside, while the country and the world changed. You could worry that whatever name your passport says, whatever flag’s on the front, your face will trip some trigger in a ninety-year-old file that says wait for her. For example.”
“Oh,” Liam repeated, in a different tone.
Grace didn’t go in for gallows humor, or graveyard whistling, but Liam tried anyway. “Remind me why they sent the two of us, in particular, on this job.”
“Bringing the whole team would attract attention. The information Asanti got from the Maitresse said that we need an artifact Team Four sent east a few centuries back, with a Jesuit named Matteo Ricci. And the Ricci Circlet should be on sale at the Bizarre.”
“You keep calling it that. Don’t tell me the homophone works the same in Chinese.”
Grace rolled her eyes. “The Chinese name for the place we’re going,” she said, “is two characters, one of which means death, and the other one of which is half of the word for market, sort of, and it’s a horrible pun, because if you pronounce market with a thick southern accent, the first half sounds kind of like the word for death, or dead.”
“And you thought it was important to translate the bad pun.”
Grace didn’t answer that. “Your ex-whatever said she and her gang of techno-cultists were headed to Shanghai, so you’re here in case she is, and you don’t speak Chinese, which is why I’m here. Entering a country where we have very limited resources, looking for magic that might kill us, under the eye...